Songs for the Season

Unique Musical Programs

Most Wonderful Time

Carols and Kris Kringle was a joyous experience once again this year.  It was great being back at Davenport’s and performing with Mark Burnell is always a delight.  We had a decent size crowd, but less than we hoped with all the ads and promotion expenses.  It’s clear that my fans have seen this show one too many times.  

After some thought we’ve decided next year to take one of two courses, either take the season off or expand the show to include other performers.  I can easily see sharing some of the material that is already in the show and possibly expanding the song list to include other performers’ featured material (especially if that material fits the theme).  So here is a chance for collaboration.  Please let me know if you have any interest in joining us.   

If I do end up taking next season off from Santa Songs, that doesn’t mean I’ll not be singing,  since several pieces from the show have already been welcome at open mic nights and elsewhere and that will continue.  Also, I may take the opportunity to record the program for CD. 

Thanks to all my collaborators, friends and followers, and for now Santa says “to all a Good Night.”




Here Comes Kris Kringle

Daniel returns to Davenports Piano Bar and Cabaret where he was previously seen in “Strut Your Stuff” and in two editions of “Wilde and Woolley: a musical exploration of Cole Porter’s inner circle”.  He will perform “Carols and Kris Kringle” a sixty minute version of his longer one-man show “Santa Songs” which he has performed all around Chicagoland since 2011.  “Carols and Kris Kringle” is a song cycle that celebrates the tradition and legacy of the legendary figure who hosts our holiday festivities variously known as Father Christmas, Old St. Nick or Santa Claus. 

 The show highlights music which takes us from the character’s origins to commercial elaborations to contemporary impacts, featuring an original “Night before Christmas” by Paul L. Johnson as well as classics like “Toyland” by Victor Herbert and “Here Comes Santa Claus” by Autry and Haldeman, along with favorites from stage and screen. Ring in the season with quintessential “Santa Songs” at Davenport’s Dec. 1, 2016 (1383 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622).  Doors open 7:30, show at 8:00 pm, $13.00 cover with two drink minimum.  This year’s edition also features the music direction and stylish performance by Mark Burnell at the piano.  For reservations go to or call (773) 278-1830.

Another Autumn


Pleased to announce Another Autumn:  A Harvest of Song for one-time only Oct. 9, 2016 at 4:00 pm.  We will be at cozy Counter Coffee, 7324 W. Madison in Forest Park, IL   From harvest to Halloween to Thanksgiving we have rousing hoedowns, apple picking, ghost stories and stirring ballads in this climactic celebration of the wheel of the year.

Won’t you join singer Daniel Johnson and pianist/music director mark Burnell for this seasonal song cycle.  No reservations necessary, this is a free concert (donations accepted).  Come enjoy refreshments on sale at Counter Coffee and help us celebrate the season.

Davenport’s Aftermath

My show at Davenport’s, Wilde and Woolley, came off quite well on June 11 with only a few understandable memory lapses/confusions, the kind of things that happen when you rehearse a big show for a one-shot performance, things that would be easily ironed out in a longer run.  We had a fairly good turn-out of new and old friends and supporters as well as a few walk-ins. 

Regrettably, I haven’t been able to savor the success as much as I’d like however, because we woke the next day to the news of the massacre at Pulse in Orlando.  Since a number of my audience members had come out to a gay club to see me celebrate Pride month the coincidence struck me particularly hard.

 I was reminded palpably of the days in San Francisco when I was playing in a long-running revival of The Fantasticks when Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone were assassinated.  I was playing Mortimer, the “man who dies” the side kick to the Old Actor, whose job was ironic comic relief:  to make people giggle and/or guffaw at the wan humor of a thespian whose whole act was reduced to death scenes.  It was a burden, let me tell you.  I’ve had bad luck that way.

We restored some cuts and put in a new ending to the show.  The new additions played well which make me happy as a writer.  The show came in at one-hour exactly meeting Davenport’s time restriction.  I have a few textual tweeks I’d like to work on for the next addition.  Our future plans now are to do the show again as a full evening with intermission (adding more songs in the second act).  We would like to produce it as theatre piece (one-man show rather than cabaret set) and do it for several weekends running, to try to get reviews and perhaps build an audience through word of mouth.

 I am so thankful for my collaborators and supporters in this endeavor.  Working with Philip Seward as music director and on-stage partner has been a singular joy.  I’d be a much happier man at this juncture if the world hadn’t reminded us once again about the risks of celebrating who you are when you are non-conforming.  But we will persevere because perseverance in the face of opposition is one of the main things that Wilde and Woolley explores and celebrates.

Coming soon, W&W!

Cole Porter is defined by the brilliant music he wrote for stage and screen productions like Kiss Me Kate, Can-Can, Born to Dance and High Society and dozens more. But there was more to the man than his fabulous music. Porter lived with great style and charm as a (semi-)closeted gay artist in the pre-Stonewall era – which influenced his work and his relationships, including close friendships with playwright/actor Noel Coward and actor/director Monty Woolley.

Living in the shadow of Oscar Wilde’s martyrdom, Porter’s circle functioned in the heroic vanguard of artists who learned to adapt and thrive. Monty Woolley is most famous now for creating the role of Sheridan Whiteside in Kaufman and Hart’s hit comedy “The Man Who Came to Dinner” but before that he was known primarily as Cole Porter’s best friend from school days onward. Woolley directed several of Cole’s first hit shows and personally introduced several of Cole’s party songs to the Smart Set. To the cognoscenti Woolley and Porter were notorious for their openly gay lives, bachelor Woolley being more open than conventionally married Porter. But, when people played the “who’s gay” in the “who’s who” game in the mid-20th Century they were always at the top of everyone’s list. The story of how the two accommodated this fact in their creative lives is historically noteworthy and touching.

Now, Chicago performer Daniel Johnson has produced a must-see one-man show all about the history of Cole Porter’s inner circle. Featuring classic Porter song-favorites like “Let’s Misbehave” and “At Long Last Love” to rarities like “If I Were Only a Football King,” and “Kling-Kling Bird in the Divi-divi Tree, ” Wilde and Woolley is a poignant and amusing show that celebrates the men behind the music we all know and love.



Rehearsals are on-going for the new and improved version of the already very well received “Wilde and Woolley.”   We hope you will join us Sat. June 11 to celebrate this Pride Month edition.

Up next: Wilde and Woolley

Up next is a Gay Pride edition of Wilde and Woolley: a new and improved exploration of Cole Porter’s inner circle at 8:00 pm on Saturday, June 11, 2016 Davenport’s Cabaret.  When the show debuted at Dav’s last fall it was very well received.  Patrons loved the Cole Porter songs and lore, but were also very impressed with the story-telling.

So we were delighted to be asked back.  We’ve made some improvements in the show and it will also again feature the music direction, accompaniment and vocals by the multi-talented Philip Seward.

Not just a tribute to the creative resilience of two famed pre-Stonewall gay icons, it spells out the varying effect that the closet had on Cole Porter and Monty Woolley, told cabaret style with an enchanting mixture of song:  familiar standards and unique rarities by Porter and his contemporaries.


When Daniel researched the role of Sheridan Whiteside in “The Man Who Came to Dinner” (one of his favorite theater experiences) he discovered that there was a story to tell about Cole and Monty’s friendship that was not only touching and historic but very worth knowing about and one that moved him personally.

Please join us at Davenport’s for this special Pride event.

Santa Songs 2015 comments

What people are saying about Santa Songs (2015)

“I went to Santa Songs at Piano forte on December 6th, 2015. Daniel Johnson has put together a great show. Full of classic holiday stories and songs that you may or may not know. Daniel brings his obvious love of the season and his subject to the stage with wit, joy, and presence. His open-hearted performance is free of ego or pretense and invites us to enjoy the wonder of St. Nick through his own admiring gaze.”

Theo Geer

“You did a wonderful job of telling the many stories about that jolly old man, Santa.  I learned a lot from you.  I loved how you so skillfully wove the songs and stories together into a captivating holiday cabaret show.

I sat there thinking how great this show would be for audiences looking for a different kind of Christmas season show but which still has some of the familiar melodies along with the new and continues to honor the joy, love and spirit of the season. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Carol Weston

Chicago Cabaret Professionals Advisory Board

“I should preface this by sharing that I’m not typically a fan of the Christmas season. I’m actually a bit of a grinch. Some friends invited me to see this show, however, and I’m glad I attended. There’s a sense of whimsy and gentleness that I’ve been missing in this season, and I found it again with Daniel. He’s brought together an excellent repertoire of storytelling and song and got me laughing while he shared it! For at least the time I was watching, I regained a childhood sense of wonder regarding Ol’ St. Nick that I barely recognized. Daniel evokes a sense of warmth and light while he presents, and I don’t know if I’ll ever feel so welcomed into an experience like this again.”

George McGeorge



Away they all flew: Afterglow 2015

When I had the opportunity to play Kris Kringle in “Miracle on 34th Street” I knew I had a unique acting challenge.  Playing a real person is hard enough but playing a real person, who believes himself to be a magical spirit, and the embodiment of a legend, was very demanding.

I decided to base my characterization in the reality of expertise.  In my imaginary biography Kris was a man who set out to know everything he could about St. Nicholas and Father Christmas, and who was recognized as an expert (as an importer of hand crafted toys and successful author of holiday mail order catalogs).  Then through family connections he was covertly honored by a group of magicians to represent the spirit ritually.  Through this experience Kris claimed the right to his identity as the “real” Santa (or at least the elected representative for a group of true believers).

But I thought Kris’ also needed to be an entertainer.  I posited that when his “expertise” ceased to support him (I imagined his company was taken from him in a hostile take-over), he decided to make an exhibit of himself for the entertainment of others: and he took to the vaudeville stage with a Christmas act.

Those three elements, his expertise, his belief in his own validity and his desire to entertain were the elements on which I hung my characterization.  After playing Kris Kringle with those imaginary given circumstances, it occurred to me that I might also have a “Christmas Act” making use of what I had learned, imagined and performed.  That’s the rich background to Santa Songs.

So it’s not surprising when people find depth in my conception of what is supposed to be a light holiday entertainment.  People are amazed that there are “so many Santa songs!”  Well, when I couldn’t find a song I needed to tell my story completely, I sought out a friendly composer and had them written!  I also adapted and wrote others myself.  Then I lived with the material for several years and tweaked the program until it did what I had originally conceived.

I wanted to do justice to the historical truth and the magical appeal of the character joyously told through song and story.   But this is not easily conveyed to the general public and Santa Songs has yet to achieve its promise in terms of finding a wider audience.  People who see it are consistently impressed and entertained.  But the next challenge is to find that larger audience.

Santa Songs 2015: Program

“Santa Songs: A Christmas Cabaret” — playing Dec. 6, 2015 at PianoForte in Chicago, a concert of holiday music celebrating Santa traditions from Father Christmas to Old St. Nick and Kris Kringle, staring Daniel T. Johnson with music director Mark Burnell at the piano, based on staging by Matthew Ellenwood.

Daniel Johnson, actor/vocalist, is a frequent interpreter of holiday material having appeared many times as Santa professionally and for charity. His acting has been featured in “A Christmas Carol” and “Miracle on 34th St.” Daniel is a veteran musical theatre performer of material from Gilbert and Sullivan to Cole Porter. This will be his fifth year presenting “Santa Songs: A Christmas Cabaret.” Dan has appeared around Chicago with SongShop Live and in “Strut Your Stuff” with Chicago Cabaret Professionals and recently made his solo debut at Davenport’s Cabaret in “Wilde and Woolley: a musical exploration of Cole Porter’s Inner Circle.”

Mark Burnell is an accomplished pianist/vocalist/arranger and one of Chicago’s most sought after musicians, working with a wide array of talent.

Matthew Ellenwood is a vocal director active in the Chicago Cabaret Community and serves as Artistic Director of Terra Mysterium Performance Troupe.

Paul L. Johnson, composer, is a NYC based composer/musical director. Among his most notable achievements are: conductor for the world premiere of WHERE ELEPHANTS WEEP in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia; recipient of two OOBR awards for composing and musically directing COWBOYS! and TANGO MASCULINO at Wings Theatre in NYC. He has also musically directed over 180 productions for regional, community and Off-Off Broadway theater. Paul has composed many songs for church, for cabaret and for the musical theater.

There will be one 10 minute intermission

This Evening’s Songs

Mummer’s Bells (lyric trad., music Paul L. Johnson)

Ballad of St. Nicholas (lyric Mike Sherer, music traditional)

Night Before Christmas Jig (lyric C. Moore, music Paul L. Johnson)

Toyland (Herbert and MacDonough, 1903)

Parade of the Wooden Soldiers (Jessel and McDonald, 1922)

Medley: A Christmas Carol (Tom Lehrer) Silver and Gold (Johnny Marks, 1992) Oh, Christmas Tree (Traditional)

Pine Cones and Holly Berries (Meredith Willson, 1963)

That’s What I’d Like For Christmas (Bricusse and Ornadel, 1963)


Dear Ole Santy Claus (lyrics – Dan Johnson and David Stephens, music trad.)

My Grown-up Christmas Wish (Linda Thompson-Jenner and David Foster, 1990)

Expect Things to Happen and Up on the Rooftop (Meredith Willson, 1963)

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (Gillespie and Coots, 1932)

Here’s Love (Meredith Willson, 1963)

Yes, Virginia (There’s a Santa Claus) (Whatley and Schermerhorn, 2010)

Here Comes Santa Claus (Autry and Haldeman, 1947)

Be A Santa (lyric, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, music, J. Styne, 1961)


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Santa Songs 2015 Tickets on Sale

Tickets have gone on sale for the 2015 edition of “Santa Songs: A Christmas Cabaret.”   Daniel Johnson’s one-man show celebrating the heritage of that embodiment of holiday spirit we know as Father Christmas, Old St. Nick or Santa Claus; joyously told through story and song.


One evening only, Sunday Dec. 6 at 7:00 p.m. at PianoForte, located at 1335 S. Michigan Ave. in Chicago.  Tickets are $12, and can be purchased by calling 800.838.3006 or by visiting .

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